News Local/State

Hearing On Coal Mine Draws Large, Divided Crowd

Jonathan Ashbrook testifies against the Bulldog Mine proposal at a state hearing in Georgetown, IL.

Jonathan Ashbrook, who farms near the proposed Bulldog Mine site, testifies at the DNR informal conference in Georgetown. (Jim Meadows / Illinois Public Media)

More than 170 people tuned out at an informal state hearing in Georgetown Tuesday night, to voice their opinions about a new coal mine that Sunrise Coal plans for southwest Vermilion County.

Sunrise Coal vice-president Stuart Boyd was the first to testify at the informal conference held at the Georgetown Community Center by the Office of Mines and Minerals within the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Boyd stated that the proposed 391-surface-acre Bulldog Mine near Homer and Allerton would employ a water system designed to ensure that water used for coal-washing rarely discharges from the mine into the surrounding area.

“However, when it does, it will meet all water quality standards set forth by the EPA to prevent adverse effects to human and aquatic life”, said Boyd. “Discharge water from our mine site is not toxic.”

Boyd also stated that the mine's room-and-pillar design would avoid the risk of land subdince.

Supporters of the proposed Bulldog Mine wore yellow t-shirts with the mine’s logo at the hearing. Many were miners themselves. Some live in Vermilion County, and even worked at local mines that closed a few years back. Several of those now travel to western Indiana to work at Sunrise Coal’s Carlise Mine. Vermilion County Board Member Chuck Nesbitt referred to those miners, when he testified in support of the Bulldog Mine, and its projected 300 jobs.

 “Because they (the miners) spend so much time out of the county, many buy big-ticket items such as cars, pickups, etc., out of county”, said Nesbitt, whose county board district would be home to the new mine. “Let’s bring them home and keep their dollars in Vermilion County.”

Sunrise Coal says the proposed mine’s design minimizes the risk of pollution and land subsidence. But Keith Rohl, who lives in the Homer area near the proposed mine site, said he’s not convinced, and fears local farmland would be at risk.

“Please consider the farmland on the top a rare and precious resource that, when cared for, will help feed the world for years to come, versus a one-time extraction of coal”, said Rohl.

Opponents of the proposed mine who testified at the two-and-a-half-hour hearing outnumbered speakers in support of the mine. But the numbers of supporters and and opponents were roughly equal, if measured by the number of people wearing yellow Bulldog Mine t-shirts versus those with yellow stickers from the group Stand Up To Coal.

The Department of Natural Resources’ Mines and Minerals office will hold a second hearing in late November or early December, with technical staff present, who will be able to answer some questions about issues considered in the permit process. After that hearing, the Office of Mines and Minerals will have 60 days to approve or reject Sunrise Coal’s permit application, or request modifications.

Other state agencies, including the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, are also reviewing the mine proposal.